The tragic case of Baby P presents us with a rare glimpse into the structures which are supposed to
protect our children. In fact the case tells us something fundamental about today's government in general.
Yesterday, beginning a series of new child welfare initiatives, Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families) announced that Labour's 'Children's Trust Boards' - local groups designed to protect vulnerable children - will be strengthened. No doubt action is now needed, but this is a move which not only illustrates perfectly how this Government interprets the meaning of 'action', but one which is likely to only perpetuate the systemic problems that led to Baby P.
Children's Trust Boards were set up in 2003, in the wake of the Laming inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie. Responding to its findings the Government leapt towards legislation (its default reaction to any controversy and the primary substitute for any real action). This new legislation demanded that local public bodies work closely together, with child protection efforts co-coordinated between
local authority, health, police, schools and charity officials. This cooperation was supposed to design systems through which in-danger children could not
From the beginning Children's Trust Boards have been the cause of more confusion than clarity. By 2008 many local authorities still had not set on up, and 31 per cent of those that had were confused as to their purpose. Only a month ago the Audit Commission concluded that Children's Trusts had failed to improve outcomes for children and young people, or delivered better value for money than locally agreed cooperation.
But of course - typical of a government so addicted to reviews and commissions that they don't even consider the findings of one before instigating another - Mr Balls and the Government simply dismissed these findings of the Audit Commission as ‘out of date’. Instead the Government now intends to mandate Children's Trust Boards for all areas, and demand that each of them draw up a ‘Children and Young People Plan’.
Perhaps I am overly sceptical, but the answer to Haringey's problems is not a wordy, politically correct 'Children and Young People Plan'. Such a document will only further blur the lines of responsibility and accountability, lines which are already too imperceptible. It will do nothing to substantively improve the lives of children.
Moreover, in the vein of many of Mr Ball's previous initiatives this move to 'strengthen' Children Trust Boards implies that public bodies and 'official guidance' are the best answer to our problems. In short, that problem = quango.
This is not the case. I do not pretend to have the answer, but I do know that a diktat from Whitehall entrusting directionless, unaccountable committees with the welfare of children is not the answer either.
Expect to be blinded by a blizzard of such 'initiatives' over coming weeks. Anything to detract attention from the fact that what is needed is less 'action' and more transparency, less structure and more accountability. As long as no-one is responsible, nothing will improve. Programs like Children's Trust Boards only make establishing that responsibility even harder.